Reverence: Chimay Ale

Chimay Rouge - Biere Premiere

What better week is there to pay homage to one of the finest ales the world has ever known?  Each year, Cycling Week in Belgium has me turning toward the top shelf of my regular beer peddler for a bottle of Chimay Red Label to be savoured on either the day of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen or Paris-Roubaix or both.   It is part of my annual Ronde/Roubaix ritual; a morning ride which includes rough roads and small steep climbs hopefully in gloriously shitty weather followed by some shop time tuning up the stable after a long winter, punctuated by strong Belgian Ale crafted in the monastic traditions of Trappist monks.  Life is good.

The Cistercian Trappist monks have been brewing beer and making cheese in Chimay since 1862.  Here’s what they say about life, beer, and God:

Here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their life to God, products are made which, in themselves, gladden the heart of man.

If this statement doesn’t beckon me to the cloth, nothing will.  Speaking for myself, there are plenty of reasons not to become a monk: Celibacy, atheism, sin, colorless wardrobe, dudefest, to name a few.  However, the promise of the finest beers and cheeses the world has ever known and relocating to Belgium just might get me thinking about making a few “sacrifices”.   Although I have only partaken in the Trappist beer, I imagine the cheese is to die for as well.  I believe it was Ed Abbey who said “we all have a friend in cheeses”.  Amen.

So whether it be Rouge, Bleue, or Blanche (they make a Doree label as well which I’ve never had) uncork some Peres Trappist this week, drown some frites in mayo, and watch what I believe to be the finest competition bicycle racing has to offer.  It only comes once a year but the nice thing is that it’s a whole week long.  Thank you sir, may I have another.

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58 Replies to “Reverence: Chimay Ale”

  1. Frak, is that snow I see in the yard behind that delicious looking beverage? Nonetheless, I am convinced that … one day … I will get to the continent to experience firsthand these magnificent races in all their glory. And the food that surrounds them. Yumyumyum…

  2. Yes, there is still a shit-ton of snow outside but mostly in the woods. The roads are clear finally.

  3. @Marko, nice one.

    I’ll have to have a look at our local purveyors for availablity. Is it a dark ale, judging by the picture? What’s commonly referred to as “old” here in Sydney. If so, I’ll be looking twice as hard

  4. @eightzero
    Agree. Last year when I was living in Sicily I had this plan to get an old Fiat Punto. load it it up take my bike and drive to northern europe to watch the classics. then real life set in and I came back to the US.

  5. Marko–I keep a bottle of Chimay red label in the fridge at all times. I’ve loved this ale since college. If you look on the back of the bottle, it’s imported by Manneken-Brussel Imports (MBI), located in Austin. When I was racing/occasionally attending classes at UT, I worked at and raced for Eurosport Cycles. Eurosport was owned by Bob Leggett. Bob owned MBI until he sold it a few years ago. He now owns Artisanal Imports.

    Bob was the coolest guy ever. He kept the shop fridge full with really nice imports. Chimay was often available. Hence my love of Chimay. It brings back great memories.

    I, too, drink Belgian beers and ales at this time of year. There’s a little Stella Artois in the fridge as well. (Not my favorite, but hey, it’s Belgian). Seriously, what else does one drink in April?

    I think I’ll have my Chimay right now. Cheers!

  6. I lived in Taiwan for a few years. The beer was horrible. The choices were either Heineken (got old after a few cases) or Taiwan Beer (basically PBR).

    I had heard rumors of a Belgian beer distributor for the whole island who happened to be in the same city. I found out that he sold to the public during specific hours on Friday nights (whole cases only).

    The next Friday, I drove down a few dark alleys to the address. I found the house number and wandered through an open doorway, boxes of every Belgian beer imaginable stacked to the ceiling. Three small yappy dogs immediately came charging at me and a voice yelled “Who the hell is that?!”

    I timidly announced my presence and that I had cash in hand. I asked for a case of Chimay Blue and, I think, some Gulden Drak or maybe Delirium. He threw in a Chimay-branded glass which usually required the purchase of two cases of Chimay (I felt guilty even though I hadn’t asked for it).

    I went back a few more times over the next two years.

  7. Marko,

    The picture, and indeed the beverage itself, transcend words. It is not only an appropriate post, but one which beckons the reader to pull out a bottle of their favorite golden ale, dubbel, triple, or quad from its resting place and carefully uncork it. Such libations are best served between 7-10 degrees Celsius, and in the proper stemware, where possible. It’s also advisable to have a prayer or other meditation handy while going through the ritual of decanting the bottle. It pays proper homage to the centuries’ old tradition found in every bottle. Most beers brewed in the Trappist manner are Merckx nectar, passed down to us through His agents. It is appropriate that such an elevated group would imbibe these heavenly liquids. I may be a neophyte on the road, but I respect tradition. I come from decades in the dirt, riding and racing. I discovered ‘cross and the Belgian bevies a few years ago, and haven’t looked back. Cheers for a great post and despite having no tele, I’ll be glued to my pc looking for highlights and results.

    Make mine a dubbel!

  8. Great one Marko, sometimes I feel the burden of being a teetotaler, eheheh…

  9. Nice one Marko, I believe I can buy this fine looking beer in Hawaii and I will. Watching Paris-Roubaix will require it, I can’t think of a drinkable French beer. Just finished watching Flanders on Versus, jesus that was heart attack material and I could have used a pint of Chimay to calm the nerves.

  10. eightzero :
    @brett”Frak” = an expletive common in the colonies.

    Was wondering about that, with all the talk about star wars a battlestar galactica reference slips through the gaps.

  11. brett:
    @il ciclista medio
    How dare you mention ‘Old’ in the same breath as Chimay! Not in the ball park, not even the same sport…

    thought someone from ’round this way might have picked that one! No dissin’ intended, just trying to get the mental image right! Humble apologies are made then…

  12. @G’rilla
    That is a fantastic story. Delirium I’ve never liked as much, the bottles are cool though.

    @Jeff in PetroMetro
    That too sounds like a wonderful memory. But at $14 a pint here I can’t afford to have a bottle on hand all the time. I think frank and I must have drank 4 cases of Bleue when we were in Chamonix a few years back. That is when I truly fell in love with Chimay.

    Yes, it may well be possible that a drop of sweat from the brow of Merckx is in every bottle.

  13. Had some whilst cooking and eating this dish (though I swapped chicken thighs for bunny as the family would not approve – it is superior w/ bunny though) with frites. Wife and daughter even humored me by watching the Ronde Van Vlaanderen during and after dinner. Great way to cap off a good ride – albeit on a beautiful day.

  14. @Marko
    Like bikes, you will never regret buying a little higher than you wanted. I can’t afford Chimay either, but I keep it on hand like a good bottle of wine or scotch.

    There are special occasions in life that are made to be savored. Be ready for them at a moment’s notice.

  15. Well done Marko.

    Just as there was/is a journey in my cycling there has likewise been pilgrimage in my beer drinking. The father of my godchildren has been on a mission to convert me from a savage idahoan to a sanctified connoisseur of the finer things in life. I don’t shop at Walmart anymore, I eat my steaks rare, I never trust a beer I can see through and hopefully I will soon free myself from all things Pearl Izumi.

    At first I wasn’t too fond of the hoppy bitterness of the beers my friend would foist on my palette. Slowly but surely, however, I am starting to appreciate the subtleties found in a good porter or stout. While Black Butter Porter can usually be found in my fridge I really enjoy Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown but Chimay is high on my list of beers I need to try.

    I mentioned recently that I purchased three issues of Peloton magazine. One of them has an article on Belgian beers and it goes into great detail about the various tastes you will encounter, what glass to use, how to poor a particular brand, serving temperature, etc. The article mentioned another brand who’s name escapes me presently but it was described as having hints of toffee and a creamy head. Hopefully the local beer pusher can aquire it for me. I’ll keep you posted.

    Oh, and I’m fairly confidant that God runs Campy on Columbus tubes and lugs filed by Seraphim.

  16. Yea, my son and I celebrated the Ronde yesterday with an out-back ride in Cumberland Gap Natl Park to get our climbing work in and then a short loop behind a nearby state park in Virginia. At 14 yrs he is probably the only kid cycling I know that likes riding an old bike with friction shifting, so he rode the loop on his 74 Le Tour. We completed the loop ride back to the car on a gravel “rails to trails” path littered with horse dung and plenty of sticks to puncture a tire. I finished the evening off watching the race whilst enjoying a St. Bernardus Prior 8 in the appropriate wide mouth chalis. No frites with mayo though, I can only go so far w/ the Belgian thing, riding on the hoods and drinking good beer seems suffcient.

  17. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Come on over. Know that watching cycling as family (or even just husband/wife) is a rare occurrence – though I’ve already laid down a marker for Paris-Roubaix. Speaking of which, I’m thinking about making Coq au Vin…

  18. Is that some kind of wooden moustache protector fitted to the top of the glass ?

    In case Hercule Poirot stops by for a swift half.

  19. @brian
    I have a simple roasted chicken recipe served with large croutons (cut from a baguette) for soaking up the jus if coq au vin falls off your Sunday menu.

  20. Thanks Marko, I know so little about Belgian beer, this is one of this sites perks. And “dudefest” had me snarfing my espresso.

  21. @Cyclops
    When I started writing this I thought about waxing on about undertones, finishes, hints of…, food pairings, and the like. I didn’t want to bore you all with Huangisms for beer though. Chimay is just good beer and could be eaten with anything because once you start drinking it you won’t want to put anything else in your mouth.

  22. Ah, I haven’t had Chimay in quite some time. To be honest, living in a beer-snob city such as Portland means I don’t buy a lot of imported brews. I’ll have to pick up a bottle next time I’m at the store and give it a go.

    I will say, I’m really sick of the trend towards super-hopped imperial IPAs and the like. It’s like brewers here ran out of ideas a year ago. I went to a fundraiser last week that featured beers by 6 or 7 local breweries, and there was not one stout or porter. They did have a “Belgium-style Tripple” though, which was pretty good.


    If you like Black Butte Porter, try their Obsidian Stout. And if you ever find yourself in Bend Oregon where the brewery is, go to the pub and try all the beers they don’t have available in bottles. Also, if Hopworks Urban Brewery from Portland has distribution in your city, pick up some of their stuff, you’ll really like it.

  23. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I like the sound of that send it along please.

    It’s funny, I’ve been on a French kick such that my wife is no longer impressed w/ a regular roast chicken – it seems, and I’m paraphrasing here, too easy. Of course she’s not the one trussing and quartering the bird.

  24. Ahhh Chimay! This is my 1st year out of Europe in a couple, and I was pining for Belgian beer as Flanders and Roubaix hove into view. I have found a wicked little beereria near my house, and picked up a six pack of Leffe (3 Blonde, 3 Bruin) for Flanders, and a very large bottle of Deus for Roubaix.

    The Leffe brought back memories of freezing cold, wet days on the side of ridiculously narrow roads watching the big hitters smash it up. Great stuff!

    Deus is well outside of my price range normally, but seeing how excited the two blokes in the shop were when I picked it up, I thought I was onto a good thing, and it IS Roubaix after all… Report (and perhaps photos if I can work out how to attach them) next week.

  25. Ah, the Trappist! Sit back and let uncle Frank tell you all a story. Originally, there were only 6 Trappists. These are ales that were very carefully regulated and they had to be brewed only within the walls of the monastery or monkastary or whatever they’re called where the dudes are. Not a religious man, so those details get lost on me.

    In any case, they were La Trappe (the only Dutch one), Westmalle, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, and the holy grail – Westvleteren.

    Now, these all have different characters, but La Trappe and Chimay were pretty close in nature, Orval generally considered the worst, and Westmalle being a good gateway Trappist. La Trappe got commercial and bent the rules; they opened a factory and had some douche designate it a monkastery so they could legally call it a Trappist, but they got busted and lost their license. Fucking Dutch. I love my people, but we just can’t say “no” to a business opportunity – no matter how unscrupulous. Yeah, we also invented organized doping, I believe.

    For my taste, Rochefort was the best and is still the best one that can be readily obtained. Westvleteren is a different matter. These guys make only enough for their own consumption, and the overflow is sold at a store across the street from the dude farm. My brother used to make pilgrimages down there and buy some every few months and send me some. What a cool brother, huh? Anyway, this stuff was the cat’s cock, it was so good. Rochefort is the closest one to it, but it’s nowhere near it for depth.

    In any case, Marko – those were good times when we downed a shitton of it over in my VMH’s apartment back in the day and listened to SRV all night, eh? Then again in Cham. Good times.

    I can’t believe how many trappists are available now, they must have changed the rules or something. There seem to be dozens. *humpf*

  26. @brian
    Chicken with Garlic Croutons

    1 baguette, cut into roughly 5cm pieces
    1 roasting chicken, about 1.8kg
    pinch of salt
    smaller pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
    1 orange, halved
    2 bay leaves
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    thyme sprigs (for garnish if trying to impress someone)

    1. Preheat oven to 230 Celsius
    2. Place bread cubes on cookie sheet and bake at 230C for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
    3. Prep and clean chicken. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Squeeze orange halves into a bowl. Place 1 orange half, bay leaves, and 3 soup spoonfuls of orange juice in body cavity of chicken. Lift wings up and over back; tuck under breast. Place chicken, breast side up on broiler pan. Pierce skin several times with fork.
    4. Bake chicken at 230 Celsius for 50 minutes. Place croutons around chicken and cook an additional 10 minutes.
    5. Remove chicken from pan, reserving drippings. Place chicken on a big serving platter, cover loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes. Arrange croutons on rimmed cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Drizzle drippings and minced garlic over croutons, stirring until the croutons are coated. Bake at 230 Celsius for another 5 minutes until crisp. Place croutons around chicken on serving platter and garnish with thyme sprigs.

    Beware how much smoke this recipe can make in your kitchen. But it’s really good.

  27. @frank
    Loving the shitton as a volume/capacity calculating tool – I’m guessing these are of course a metric measurement?

    So is it 100 or a 1000 x shitton’s per 1 x fuckton?

  28. @Cyclops Very nice. Reading the review is hilarious, full of Huangisms. This one made me chuckle: “DRINKABILITY: A very good beer, but not a session brew….”

  29. @Marko

    I couldn’t find Maredsous in town last night but I did pick up a bottle of Chimay Cinq Cents as well as a bottle of Kasteel Donker. I’ll do some carbo loading this weekend and tell you what I think.

  30. If any of you guys are ever in San Francisco, there’s a Belgian pub called La Trappe in North Beach up the hill from Ghiradelli’s dedicated to Trappist beers and Belgian fare. Google or Yelp it. It’s the real deal.

  31. @eightzero
    if you ever go to Yurp, particularly France, Spain or Belgium you get a menu to choose from. Merckx, what a choice! I can drink my weight in the dark ales like Pelforth and Grimbergen brune. What Frahnk doesn’t say about Dutchland is that they slice the head of their beers with a little knife and aswell as frites and mayo, serve horsemeat hotdogs.

  32. Y’all – sitting here, relaxing with a Chimay Bleu (and it will only be one, by Merckx its strong) it got me thinking: should you make it only as far as London this may help if you hunger after a choice of Belgium beer

  33. @Jonny @frank

    Oddly enough I’ve never got round to drinking a huge amount of Belgian beer, I think I’ve been put off by the fruit beers in the past. On Friday though, I was wandering round the supermarket when it struck me that I had n beer in the house other than some Becks that someone had brought along to a party (they obviously didn’t want to be invited back!) and this site must be rubbing off on me as I went Belgiam with some Leiffe Blonde and Hoegarden Witbier. Loved the Leiffe but the cloudy, fuity, spicey thing going in the Hoegaarden wasn’t my cup of tea.

    Anyway, getting back to the point, fast forward to this lunch time and I found myself in a Belgian bar in London for lunch and drinks with a former colleague and who’s moving back to the sticks. Wasn’t Belgo but a place called the Lowlander. Good food and a huge choice of beer including some of @Franks revered Trappists – the Rochefort 10 weighing in at a massive 11.3%! Given that I’ve few meetings and have to drive home I wimped out and stuck to a pint of Kasteel Blonde and a half of something dark and strong but whose name escapes me.

    If any Velominati were to find themselves without anything to do for an evening in London, I could be persuaded to go back and give it a second chance!

  34. @Chris

    I was beer shopping last night for alms and offerings to bring to Frank at the Seattle Cogal. I was considering a Chimay but to be honest I wasn’t impressed when I tried it in the past. Now Kasteel Donker is another story.

    When I get to Seattle the first thing I’m going to do is search out some Maredsous 8 since I haven’t been able to find any in Idaho or Utah.

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